5 Things Healthcare Students Will Notice When Watching Grey’s Anatomy


By Staff Writer Published on February 15, 2018

In television, trends change and fade all the time, but one thing that remains constant is America’s obsession with doctor dramas.

Who can blame them? When each episode deals with life or death situations along with the complicated and intensely interwoven personal lives of attractive doctors, it’s easy to see how TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy gain and maintain popularity. Shows like Grey’s have even inspired young minds to pursue a career in healthcare.

However, after a short time studying to work in healthcare, students often start to see where reality ends and TV drama begins. Here are 5 things healthcare students will notice when watching Grey’s Anatomy.

#1 Doctors Performing the Work of Other Healthcare Professionals

In the course of your program, one thing you’re sure to notice on the show is that doctors often end up performing many responsibilities that nurses and other healthcare professionals would do in real life. While Grey’s Anatomy, like many healthcare TV series, often shows doctors checking a patient’s blood pressure, operating the MRI machine, putting in catheters, analyzing blood samples, or giving injections, in reality, nurses, techs, and lab technicians perform these duties.

You may already get a taste of this even before starting school by being a patient. When you stay in the hospital, you’ll meet with doctors, but the majority of the healthcare professionals you’ll interact with will be nurses and techs.

In Grey’s Anatomy, the doctors often develop deep relationships with each of the featured patients. Grey’s shows doctors spending a lot of time in the patient’s room talking with them and taking care of them. In real life, doctors spend more time with lab test results and computers than they do with any individual patient.

Nurses and other healthcare workers spend a lot more time with patients than doctors do. In fact, in most situations, nurses are the ones who develop closer relationships with patients since they spend the majority of the time caring for them.

#2 Doctors Acting Outside of Their Specialty

It’s impossible for any medical professional to be a master of every skill set needed to treat patients. This is why there are so many different roles and specialists in a hospital. As you learn more about these different roles, you’ll start to notice that medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy often use main characters to function well out of the role they’d play in real life.

For example, in one episode in season 12 (spoiler warning), Dr. Callie, a bone surgeon, reattached veins during a complicated amputation surgery. In real life, a vascular surgeon would reattach the patient’s veins.

#3 More People Dying on Screen Than in Real Life

TV relies on drama and suspense. If TV hospital death rates matched reality, shows like Grey’s Anatomy wouldn’t be able to produce the emotional impact they need to grow and maintain viewership.

According to one scholar, the mortality rate in TV hospitals (based on data from shows such as Chicago Hope, Grey’s Anatomy, and ER) is 17.5%. In real hospitals, that statistic goes down to about 5%.

#4 Obvious Ethical Breaches

Before working in the healthcare industry, you’ll learn all about rules and the consequences of ethical violations. When watching medical dramas, you’ll notice that it all seems to get thrown out the window.

After learning the rules about things like informed consent, be prepared to get frustrated as you see interns and attending physicians alike bend and break the rules time and time again with few or no consequences.

In season 5 (spoiler warning), Dr. Derek Shepherd proposes to Dr. Meredith Grey by covering an elevator with private patient scans that come from surgeries they’ve worked on together successfully. In reality, Dr. Shepherd would likely be reprimanded or even lose his job because of the breach of patient confidentiality.

#5 Medical Inaccuracies

Medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy employ medical professionals to try to ensure as much accuracy as possible. While they’ll generally do a good job with coming up with fairly believable medical conditions most of the time, you’ll start to notice inaccuracies and mistakes as you learn more and more in your program.

For example, you might start to notice doctors pronouncing medications and conditions incorrectly. You may notice mistakes in execution as well, such as doctors performing CPR much slower than they should. The average viewer may not notice these things, but healthcare students will often catch these mistakes.